How to Stay Calm in Coronavirus Chaos
As a mental health professional, it is of great concern to me the emotional impact the Coronavirus is having on the general population. The situation is evolving even as I am writing this blog, so I will keep it focused on staying emotionally and psychologically healthy as fear, anxiety and stress have a negative impact our immune systems and overall physical health.
Humans are by nature adverse to change. When our normal routines and expectations are upended, we feel out of control. People tend to worry about the things that have already happened, and the things that are about to happen. The distress and confusion that leads to fear and stress often arises as a result of this dichotomy between the past and the future.
I remember a friend of mine saying years ago that “when you’re most anxious is when you need to relax the most.” Throughout the news, internet, social media and amongst my friends and family all out panic has begun regarding the Coronavirus. Fear and hysteria often lead to reactions like watching or reading news obsessively, taking precautions to compulsive and unproductive extremes and hoarding. We’ve all seen the empty shelves in stores and received all kinds of conflicting information regarding what to do.
The projected numbers from the CDC are of great concern to all of us. I remember the Polio epidemic as a child in the 1950’s, and how afraid I was of contracting that crippling disease. Fortunately, my mother was a nurse and her knowledge of the facts helped calm my fears. She educated me as to the truth about the actual risk of contracting polio and got me the vaccine.
Even though the spread of COVID-19 is serious and many are frightened, we need to remain calm and be thoughtful about how we react. Here are some ways to help you remain calm as the Coronavirus situation evolves:
Don’t react immediately to everything you see in the news and social media or hear from a friend or neighbor. Instead, be patient and collect as much accurate information as possible. Make sure you are fact checking directly using reliable sources such as the CDC, WHO and your local health departments. This will help you remain less emotional and improve your ability to make logical and rational decisions.
When stressful situations occur, your mind may go in a thousand directions and many of your thoughts may be negative. The more your mind wanders, the more difficult it will be for you to remain calm. Stop yourself from beginning to imagine the worst-case scenario. Instead, let go of those negative thoughts and refocus your mind on something positive, no matter how small.
Never Ask “What If?”
The worst question you could ask yourself or others in the middle of a crisis begins with "what if." This line of questioning induces sheer panic and forces you to process situations that have not occurred and most likely will never happen. “What if” questions only compound the fear and escalate the problem.
Take Care of Your Body
If you make your personal health a priority, you’ll be better equipped to handle a crisis. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Exercise lowers the level of stress hormones and helps the body function at its highest level. By improving your health, you’ll increase your self-control, memory and emotional intelligence -- important characteristics that will help you respond well to an emergency. Physically relaxing also helps you relax your mind.
Limit Caffeine and Drink Plenty of Water
When you’re in the middle of a dire situation, you might be tempted to grab a cup of coffee, soda, tea, etc. Caffeine may trigger a release of adrenaline, giving you a quick burst of energy and physical strength, only to be followed by a crash marked by fatigue and irritability in some cases. Instead of reaching for that cup of coffee, soda or an energy drink, hydrate yourself with water.
Call a Trusted Friend or Mentor
When you reach out to people you trust and respect, you’ll feel more grounded. That security will help you control your stress and anxiety. As you discuss the situation, you may even start to share your thoughts out loud, which might prompt you to discover a new approach or solution. Make sure the person you call is a positive one.
Disconnect from News and Social Media
Pull away from the situation for a while, even if only for a few hours. When you give yourself time to process a dilemma and the surrounding emotions, you’ll be able to approach the situation with a fresh perspective.
Develop a Coping Strategy
Most social gatherings, sports, schools, etc. are now suspended for an indefinite amount of time and many are working from home. To better cope, develop some new routines and incorporate things that you enjoy. Perhaps you'll choose to meditate in the morning, take regular walks or exercise at lunch and do some reading (unrelated to the virus) or play board games with your kids in the evening. Whatever your situation and preferences are, developing a new “routine” in your life will help you feel more empowered to handle the situation.
Make Some Time to Laugh
What makes you laugh? Podcasts, funny videos, comics, jokes, memes … there’s something for everyone out there. Just pick what makes you laugh in order to change how you feel and improve your mood.
It can be hard to keep calm in a crisis, especially one of this magnitude, but doing so has countless benefits for both your physical and mental health. Most of all, make sure to find new ways to do the things that you normally do to maintain your mental health. If you’re already seeing a therapist or thinking now might be a good time to start, ask them if they have an option of telephone or video sessions. That way you can receive support and/or continue your personal growth while staying safe during this pandemic.
The British said it well during the second world war: “Stay calm and carry-on.”
Positive vibes to all of you reading this!
Here's some more information that may be of interest to you:
If you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction, it is very important for you to seek out professional help as soon as possible. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I may be of assistance to you or your loved ones. My website provides more information on my practice and how to contact me with questions or take advantage of a free 20-minute phone appointment.
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